James Spione, an Academy Award-nominated director who is currently working on a documentary about whistleblowers in the age of Obama, summed things up to me recently this way: "Beneath the partisan grandstanding, I think what is most troubling about this situation is the sense that the law is being selectively applied. On the one hand, we have the Justice Department twisting the Espionage Act into knots in an attempt to crack down on leaks from "little guys' like Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, while at the same time an extraordinarily detailed window into covert drone policy magically appears in the Times.
"Notwithstanding Mr. McCain's outrage, I don't believe this is about security at all. It is the unfair singling out of whistleblowers by a secrecy regime that is more than anything just another weapon in the state's arsenal to bludgeon its enemies while vaunting its supposed successes -- if you can call blowing up unsuspecting people, their families, and friends with a remote control airplane 'success.'"
Here is the simple reality of our moment: the president has definitively declared himself (and his advisors and those who carry out his orders) above the law, both statutory and moral. It is now for him and him alone to decide who will live and who will die under the drones, for him to reward media outlets with inside information or smack journalists who disturb him and his colleagues with subpoenas, and worst of all, to decide all by himself what is right and what is wrong.
The image Obama holds of himself, and the one his people have been aggressively promoting recently is of a righteous killer, ready to bloody his hands to smite "terrorists" and whistleblowers equally. If that sounds Biblical, it should. If it sounds full of unnerving pride, it should as well. If this is where a nation of laws ends up, you should be afraid.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq as Team Leader for two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Now in Washington and a TomDispatch regular, he writes about Iraq, the Middle East, and U.S. diplomacy at his blog, We Meant Well. Since his book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), was published in 2011, the Department of State has begun termination proceedings against him, after reassigning him to a make-work position and stripping him of his security clearance and diplomatic credentials. To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Van Buren discusses how Washington has changed when it comes to both leaking and stifling information, click here or download it to your iPod here.
[Disclaimer: The views here are solely those of the author, expressed in his capacity as a private citizen.]
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Copyright 2012 Peter Van Buren